Accommodating Science overview
I find the arguments confusing because I'm never quite sure what John defines as "science." I think he's referring to the things that scientists do. This is the narrow definition of science and I think it explains why he claims that there are aspects of religion that do not conflict with science.
I prefer the broad definition of science—the one that's more akin to "scientia" or the German word Wissenschaft. According to this view, science is a way of knowing based on evidence, rational thinking, and healthy skepticism.
Territorial demarcation and the meaning of science
Science Doesn't Have All the Answers but Does It Have All the Questions?
Sean Carroll: "What Is Science?"
What Is "Science" According to George Orwell?
Does religion produce knowledge? No, there are no examples of religious knowledge that don't conform to the scientific way of knowing and yet produce knowledge that we generally agree to be truth. All claims of knowledge by believers, including the existence of god(s) conflict with the scientific way of knowing. Science and religion are incompatible.
John Wilkins doesn't agree but as far as I can tell it's mostly because he defines science in such a way that it has a very restricted domain.
I want to address John's last post: Accommodating science: Strategy. He says,
When Chris Mooney wrote a piece for Mother Jones, entitled “Seven reasons why it’s easier for humans to believe in God than evolution”, he was simply reporting the arguments made by a range of cognitive scientists of religion and psychology that certain types of belief are more “natural” for human beings than belief in some of the more arcane or distant results of science. The argument has also been made by Robert McCauley in his recent book Why religion is natural and science is not (McCauley 2011). The argument runs like this: our evolved cognitive dispositions did not evolve to understand the truths of science, but instead to adapt to social agency. Religion, which is a cultural expression of our social dispositions and cognitive biases, is therefore something very natural for us as a species to adopt (given the many meanings of “religion”, this may be overstated). Science, on the other hand, deals with large numbers, long periods, the very large and the very small, and these are things we did not evolve to deal with.The claim is that natural selection has operated on the genes that control our brain to make it more likely that we will believe in myths and magic than in evidence based knowledge. In other words, evolution has selected for irrational brains and that's why religion is so common.1
John was upset when PZ Myers and I objected to this view. He says,
The reaction of some bloggers, such as PZ Myers, whose blog Pharyngula is one of the most widely read new atheist blogs in the US, and Lawrence Moran, whose Sandwalk is a Canadian equivalent, was therefore rather surprising. Mooney was accused of “selling” accommodationism, and making out that atheists were somehow mutants. It was a great over-reaction, and had an obvious agenda behind it: to denigrate any hint that accommodation is a respectable strategy. Why is this? After all, a fact is a fact, and the fact that something like religion is in general a natural default mindset for human beings doesn’t therefore mean one must accommodate religion in science.PZ and I were reacting to the claim that we have evolved to have a genetic predisposition to rejecting evidence based knowledge and rationality in favor of myth and magic. It implies that in the ancient past if there were individuals who thought rationally they were at a selective disadvantage compared to their religious friends who had more success at reproducing. As a result, genes for
Here's what I said in Why don't people accept evolution?.
I don't believe that we evolved to favor religion over science any more than I believe we evolved to favor slavery, male superiority, castes, homophobia, and a host of other things that have disappeared or are about to disappear. Religion, especially the extreme versions, is soon going to disappear as well. I don't believe that those seven things are innate, hard-wired, ways of thinking. They are mostly learned behaviors. There's no reason to suspect than we can't teach our children different, and better, ways of thinking. There's no evidence that I know of that convinces me that essentialism, teleological thinking, dualism, and inability to understand vast time scales are more "natural" than other ways of thinking.1John Wilkins claims that PZ and I reacted the way we did because we are anti-accomodationists. That's not true. We reacted the way we did because we are opposed to excessive genetic determinism and to all "facts" that fly in the face of evidence and common sense. If you accept the arguments of Chris Mooney, Robert McCauley, and John Wilkins, then you have an obvious problem. Why, in the face of being genetically predisposed to prefer magic over science, have we made so much progress toward a secular, scientific, society over the past 1000 years? Is it really more "natural" to believe that thunder is caused by fighting gods and cancer is the gods way of punishing you? Would such thoughts ever occur to you if you weren't taught them as a youngster?
It's too bad that Chris didn't discuss why the citizens of Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden have such a different cognitive architecture than those who live in the USA and Turkey. Those nasty Scandinavians don't seem to have much trouble with angst. They seem to find evolution quite natural and they were able to "intellectually grasp" it in spite or the fact that they have the same kinds of human brains as the citizens of other countries.
Is it possible that our brains are actually wired to think rationally but it just takes a while for our society to accumulate knowledge and abandon childish thoughts?
1. At least that's how I interpret it. If, on the other hand, John Wilkins and Chris Mooney are simply saying that "science" (e.g math, physics, biology etc.) is hard and our brains struggle with difficult concepts then that's a different story. It means that it's easier to believe in the tooth fairy than to understand evolution or calculus. I'm talking about ways of knowing.